The Denver Broncos outplayed the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs… for roughly 53 minutes, that is.
After stifling quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ explosive defense for the majoriy of the game, the Broncos took a shocking, 23-13 lead with only 12:47 left in the game on a 46-yard Brandon McManus field goal.
With the exception of a brilliant interception by Chiefs defender Eric Murray that really can’t be blamed on quarterback Case Keenum, the Broncos’ offense was all but perfect; churning out yards on the ground between rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, and cashing in pivotal third downs against a porous Kansas City defense.
Lindsay had 69 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown, and Freeman had 67 yards rushing and a touchdown on a dazzling run along the right sideline that showcased the Oregon product’s combination of patience and extraordinary power. As a team, the Broncos ran for 159 yards and a whopping 7.2 yards-per-carry average, and it look as if they were in excellent position to shock the NFL world and hand the high-flying Chiefs their first loss of the season.
But Mahomes would not be denied. Only five games into his NFL career, there’s no question that the 23-year-old is one of the league’s brightest new stars… the question is if he’s already the best quarterback as well. Part-vintage John Elway and part LeBron James, Mahomes created jaw-dropping play after jaw-dropping play, each bursting with creativity and leaving opponents and fans alike shaking their heads in disbelief.
The Broncos’ defense pressured Mahomes for most of the game, and though they were only able to bring the nimble quarterback down once, he was relatively ineffective until the second half, when he and tight end Travis Kelce finally got on the same page. As expected, Kelce was more than the Broncos could handle in the end, leading the Chiefs with 78 yards receiving and a short touchdown reception, and halfback Kareem Hunt gobbled up 121 yards on the ground and another 54 through the air as he slowly wore a tired Denver defense down.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid‘s offense was wildly creative, taking full advantage of Mahomes’ unique talents as they stormed back in the fourth quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns in five of the game’s last seven minutes , silencing the rowdy Denver crowd as they took the late lead on Hunt’s four-yard touchdown run.
Keenum led his offense down the field late, converting a fourth-down pass to Emmanuel Sanders and splitting the seam to tight end Jeff Heuerman. The Broncos were in position to win the game when Keenum spotted Demaryius Thomas somehow running free down the right sideline for what looked to be an easy, pitch-and-catch touchdown. But it was not to be — the Broncos’ $18 million man rushed and dramatically overthrew Thomas, missing not only his Pro Bowl wideout, but his chances to win the game, which ended moments later when rookie Courtland Sutton attempted a desperation hook-and-ladder to Sanders which was fumbled… before being ruled incomplete in the first place.
There were positive signs for a team that finished 5-11 last season; they’re definitely better, but whether they’re better enough to win many more game remains to be seen. Only four games into the season, the Broncos now trail the Chiefs by two games, and must hope that a trip to the Big Apple next week to play the work-in-progress Jets might be a salve that can soothe the raw feelings of a statement game gone awry.